Twice blessed

Our family has been doubly blessed in the past month with two new additions to our family. I’m sure you will be shocked to find out that it wasn’t any more adoptions by Jeff and I, but rather two new grandbabies. We now have 3 grandchildren! Nothing more fun and snuggly than a newborn baby.

Rob and Mason

Sara and Mason

Chris with Zoey

Hales family photo

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Does it really take a village to raise a child?

Does it really take a village to raise a child?

Based on a previous post here, you might possibly think that I don’t believe it takes a village to raise a child. You would be right. :-) I have seen the village and I would prefer to pass on my values rather than the values of the world. Raising children requires committed parents who are not willing to pawn- off their responsibilities on others. However, this doesn’t mean that I think we can raise our children alone in a vacuum. I could never successfully fulfill my role as a parent without mentors in my children’s lives.

If you have entered the world of transracial adoption, you know it is one which is not always easily navigated. I can celebrate Chinese New Year and Autumn Moon Festival and Black History month with the best of them. Problem is, I can’t be Chinese, Haitian, Liberian, or Native American which are the ethnicities of some of my children.

When Ben had been home only two months, some very dear Deaf friends took him with them to see a neighborhood that goes all out decorating with Christmas lights. To be honest, I was worn out parenting a child who came home with no language. Tantrums due to misunderstandings were the norm in our household and were exhausting. Ben loved being in an environment with an entire family who signed and shrieked in delight tapping the Deaf father on the shoulder while pointing out beautiful light displays that caught his eye. Having Ben interact with others who are in the Deaf world/culture as well as gaining other language models besides mine has been such a blessing in our lives.

When Caleb came home, he didn’t speak a word of English and my Chinese was limited to such worthless phrases as “Can you speak English?”, “Where is the bathroom?”, “I am an American” and my all time favorites from Rosetta Stone of “That is an airplane” and “That is an elephant.” I admit the elephant phrase helped me on one occasion in a zoo in China but don’t think I have ever used that phrase since. Actually, I’m not even sure that the phrase was helpful in the zoo as Caleb looked at me like “Yeah, duh!”

As gesturing and a Chinese/English dictionary only went so far, I had a dear Chinese friend who stepped up to the plate. When Caleb would become upset and scream for up to 45 minutes at the top of his lungs while hiding under the bottom bunk bed in his room, I resorted to calling Katrina on the phone and pushing the phone under the bed. When he threw it back at me, I would switch it to speaker phone and she would try to talk him down from his tantrum. When he told me he didn’t love me, she laughingly told me how to say “I hate you” in Mandarin and said, “Have you heard that one yet? You haven’t? That’s a good sign.” Having the Chinese Cultural Center built in Tucson has also blessed our lives as we have been able to spend time in an environment where Ben and Caleb can comfortably blend in.

With Micheline’s adoption, I had new fears. With Ben and then later with Caleb, we already had a few contacts and friends in the Chinese community. When I googled the Haitian community where I live I found an article in the newspaper that showed there were about 35 families here. Not many, and I had no way of knowing how to contact them in a city of 1 million people. I contacted a few Haitian families in a large city nearby because they had a website, but their events consisted of $200/plate black tie dinners. Not exactly an event where I could bring a four-year-old child. One man offered to work with me in keeping up my Creole language skills and wanted a mere $50 an hour. Memories of “Hey you, give me money!” on the streets of Port-au-Prince came flooding back. I politely declined.

The more I spoke with adult adoptees, the more I realized the fact that Micheline was Haitian would probably become irrelevant in others’ eyes. They would merely see her as African-American, and no amount of me saying “She is Haitian” would make a difference. The AA community would be the one she would identify with as she grew up but only if I could find someone as a great friend and role model to help her be comfortable in her own skin. We had met a few AA adults and children at homeschooling events and even a few at the library and grocery store, but none of them really wanted to commit to a long-term friendship. Having the same color of skin is obviously meaningless if your personalities don’t click. We met some great friends in a multicultural homeschool community, but they all lived 1 1/2 – 2 hours away.

I had heard of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program for many years but had never had any interaction with them until someone suggested that having a “Big” might be a great idea for Micheline. At first I resisted the idea. If she was having attachment difficulties, wouldn’t having another adult in her life just make her resist attaching to us even more? Nothing ended up being further from the truth.

Having a mentor in her life who is African-American has made her do a 180 degree turn. After being a little sister to Shayla, Micheline has become far more accepting of who she is. I know it isn’t easy to be in a family where only one sister looks like you and everyone else is of a different race. Since the time she came home I have taught her to look in the mirror while I was putting lotion on her after a bath and say “I am beautiful, I am smart.” Regardless of how many times she recited it, she struggled to believe it. On more than one occasion she has told me she wished she had skin like mine. (Funny, because I wish I had skin like hers!) She told me when she is in public with Shayla, “No one stares at me because we look alike…we look like we belong together.”

It reminded me of when she was in kindergarten and I showed up to her field day only to have her act embarrassed and ask me to leave. I was hurt at the time that she would not want me there but tried to not let it show. It took her weeks to express to me that it was because I didn’t look like her and she didn’t want others to know she was adopted. As long as I didn’t show up, other children could continue to assume her mother was brown and the questions of “Why don’t you look like your mother?” would never happen.

After telling me more than once that she didn’t like her brown skin, I mentioned that she might talk to Shayla about it. She came home from an outing with a smile on her face and told me that night, “I feel so much better about being brown. Shayla told me that she likes being brown.”

Yesterday, Shayla invited Micheline over to her house for a birthday celebration as Micheline had just turned 12. Micheline was there for SEVEN hours. Xbox dancing, eating out, skateboarding, making Oreo milkshakes and watching movies were just a few of the things on the agenda. Toenails painted turquoise yesterday matched her dress for church today and she was thrilled.

This brings me back to the photo above. When God prompted me to adopt internationally and transracially I told Him I would need help. And He of course came through. I am thankful there are those out in the community who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take a child under their wing. Maybe even a child who isn’t always easy to love due to quirky behaviors. While others are saying “not my child, not my community, not my problem”, it is nice to know as Fred Rogers said, “There are those who see the need and respond.” And like Fred Rogers, I consider those people my heroes.

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November 25, 2012 · 8:52 pm

Bring Thalia Home

Some friends of mine are adopting a beautiful girl with Down’s Syndrome who currently lives in a Chinese orphanage. They have worked their tails off in raising all the funds for her adoption, but are still quite a bit short.

Anyone who has ever adopted internationally knows how expensive it can be. I’ve done it three times and each time wondered how we managed to pull it off, but then was reminded that if it is the Lord’s will, the money will come through.

The Whickers are moving forward in faith with their adoption, knowing that the money will happen, but need your help in making it happen. They are having an incredible giveaway at this website where you can win some amazing prizes.

Please find it in your heart to give, even if it is only 10 or 20 dollars. My family spends far more than that if we order take out from a restaurant, so think of it as giving up just one take out meal this month. Cook that meal at home instead and you will never even miss the money from your budget. But you will have a great feeling inside knowing that you have helped a child find her forever family.

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Mother’s Day

Last year on Mother’s Day I did something others might consider crazy. I went to the Bishop of our congregation two weeks in advance and asked him if I could be a speaker in Sacrament Meeting on Mother’s Day. I felt that words needed to be said that addressed the needs, desires and concerns of all women. After much prayer, editing, and definite guidance from the Lord, this is the talk that I gave:

I would like to speak today to the women of the church regardless of your current status as a Mother. First, to those for whom Mother’s day brings much joy. Sticky kisses, homemade gifts, that anxiously-awaited call home from your missionary, or thoughts of your own mother and the sacrifices she made for you. 2 years ago I humorously watched an edible Mother’s day gift made 2 weeks in advance and tucked carefully away in my child’s sock drawer slowly reduce in size. The temptation to eat it rather than save it for Mom was just too great. There is much to be thankful for on Mother’s day. But I wish to speak also to those for whom the words “Mother’s Day” might bring pain.

Perhaps you have recently or even long ago lost your own beloved Mother and yearn for the ability to pick up the phone and call her for advice. Perhaps you struggle with infertility and like one of my dear friends would rather sit out in the car during sacrament mtg than endure yet another Mother’s day talk, or are not yet married and like my dear own sister have tolerated painful comments from others such as “What are you waiting for?” You might wonder if this holiday will ever relate to you and your life situation.

Others may feel pain on Mother’s day related to their children’s actions. Perhaps they have strayed far from the gospel and you doubt your abilities as a mother. Or maybe you just feel that you don’t measure up to those idealistic women presented through word and song on Mother’s day.

Some of you already know that I was not a fan of Mother’s day for many years. In our early marriage as we struggled with fertility issues, Mother’s day was just a reminder to me that I was not yet a mother.

Other times I have struggled as a speaker declared a list of everything their mother had done perfectly and I left feeling “not good enough.” In speaking to many sisters over the years, I found that I was not alone in my feelings. How could a day designed to give joy and honor to women as a whole bring heartache to so many?

And then I read “Are we not all Mothers?” by Sister Sheri Dew who originally gave her talk while she was serving as a counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency. I would like to base much of my talk today on her inspired words.

In my role as a foster parent, I am asked to participate in something called “shared parenting” with the biological parents of the children we foster. It might involve writing letters to them letting them know how their child is doing, sending pictures, or even modeling appropriate parenting skills.

I would submit that our Heavenly Father also participates in “shared parenting” which is resounding evidence of his faith and trust in us. Just as I sometimes have fearfully returned foster children to homes where I feel parenting standards are lacking, our Heavenly Father sends his children down to us to raise even though our parenting abilities don’t come close to measuring up to His. He too writes letters—through the scriptures; sends pictures – more than once as I have knelt in prayer with or concerning my children, he has given me glimpses of personal revelation of who my children really are and what they can become. He also models appropriate parenting which we most clearly can see through the example of the perfect life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Lord stated that his work and his glory are to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39) We have the divine role as daughters of God to participate with Him in this work as he has entrusted us as women with his children.

Sister Sheri Dew stated: “While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity and in effect limit it to that definition, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words or titles they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve ‘the mother of all living’ …and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality, righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege and responsibility of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly and definitely that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits, talents and tendencies our Father gave us.”

Elder Matthew Cowley taught that “Men have to have something given to them (namely the priesthood) in mortality to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. They are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.”

“Nevertheless”, Sister Dew continues, “the subject of motherhood is a very tender one, for it evokes some of our greatest joys and heartaches. Some mothers experience pain because of the children they have borne; others feel pain because they do not bear children here. For reasons known to the Lord, some women are required to wait to have children. This delay is not easy for any righteous woman. But the Lord’s timetable does not negate our nature. Some of us then, must simply find other ways to mother. And all around us are those who need to be loved, led, nurtured and mentored.”

In the words of Elder Holland, “We rejoice that the call to nurture is not limited to our own flesh and blood.”

Whether that means leading and nurturing in your role as a school teacher, Primary leader or Young Women’s leader, you are fulfilling your role as a mother as you nurture the children and youth of today. I would challenge you today to look around you. Who needs you and your influence? Who needs someone to understand them and believe in them?

I am grateful to all of the Mothers I have had over the years. I am grateful for my own mother who gave birth to me and has nurtured me for many years, but I am grateful to many others as well. Who said you could only have one mother?

I am thankful for:

– A seminary teacher who inspired me to gain a testimony by daily reminding us at the end of our class, “You have to find out for yourself if the gospel is true. You cannot live on borrowed light.”

–for Young Women advisors who had faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself. For Sunday school teachers and seminary teachers who came to my high school softball and basketball games and left me feeling loved from their support.

–Visiting teachers who used to think that I would not want them as my visiting teachers because they were from my mother’s generation and yet as a young mother I so appreciated their example, their love for me, and most especially their wisdom.

I am thankful for women in this very ward who have loved, nurtured, and taught my children. Who have attended my children’s: dance performances, gone to football games to watch the band perform, sewed a wedding dress for my daughter, struggled in a sign language class because she was in the Primary Presidency and wanted to be able to converse with my son. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed. It may not take a village to raise a child, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a ward family to do so.

If you are not yet married or do not have children, the Lord may have a different timetable for your life, but you ARE a mother in Zion. My sister has often nurtured my children much better than I as not a birthday or holiday goes by without a package in the mail or a visit from her letting them know that they are special to her.

Last, if the children you have borne cause you pain on this Mother’s day, please know that your Heavenly Father is aware of your situation and recognizes you as a valiant mother. Eve was glad after the fall realizing that without it she would never have had children. Yet imagine her anguish and sorrow over one son who killed another. Our children have their free agency. 1/3 of our Heavenly Father’s children chose not to keep their first estate in the premortal existence as they chose to follow Satan instead of our Father’s plan. Yet we would NEVER doubt our Heavenly Father’s parenting skills. The Lord is aware of your children. He knows them, he loves them. They were his before they were ever yours and he will never give up on them. As it says in Isaiah 9:12, “His hand is stretched out still.”

As an aside to those who see others’ children make unwise choices and say, “My children would never do that,” you probably ought not to say it in front of any witnesses. If you have never struggled with any choices that your children made you are probably the mother of a newborn.

As Sister Dew so aptly stated, “As daughters of our Heavenly Father and as daughters of Eve, we are ALL mothers in Israel and we have always been mothers. And we each have the responsibility and the privilege to love and help lead the rising generation. How will our young women learn to live as women of God unless they see what women of God look like, meaning what we wear, watch, and read; how we fill our time and our minds; how we face temptation and uncertainty; where we find true joy; and why modesty and femininity are hallmarks of righteous women? Every one of us has an overarching obligation to model righteous womanhood because our youth may not see it anywhere else. ”

Elder Holland declared, “You can’t possibly do this alone, but you do have help. The Master of Heaven and Earth is there to bless you. [As mothers and women] yours is the work of salvation and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been. Rely on him heavily. Rely on Him forever. And “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope. You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well.”

May we rise to the challenge that the Lord has placed before us. May we recognize our sacred role and stewardship that our Father has entrusted us with as mothers in Zion and may we always remember that regardless of our current mortal circumstances, that we are ALL mothers for it is a divinely appointed, and eternal role.

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I Will Rise

After seeing this today I had to share it. I love Alex Boye’s music anyway, but this combination with the Institute Choir is a-ma-zing! It gave me goosebumps as they sang and I cannot imagine a more beautiful message for Easter than “I will rise when He calls my name.” Because He lives, we will live also, and there is no greater message to the world. Yes, the victory is won! Thanks be to God for the blessed gift of His son and His atoning sacrifice for all mankind.

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Why we homeschool

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Living homeschool

I pulled Micheline out of public school over Christmas break to homeschool her. I didn’t feel that her classroom was meeting her needs on more than one front and am a strong supporter of homeschooling, so decided to bite the bullet and pull her out.

May I say that we are loving homeschooling? I homeschooled Ben before and it was incredibly tough so I was a bit uneasy this go round but I put much prayer into the decision and know that this what we are supposed to be doing.

In History, we just finished studying the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs. We checked out a few books from the library that showed many artifacts left over from their societies. Micheline was fascinated by the small statues, masks and hieroglyphics and asked me why many of the women didn’t wear shirts. I didn’t have an answer for her other than that was what their society deemed acceptable attire.

The next day the girls were happily playing outside in the back yard when I looked outside and they were not wearing their regular play clothes. Two of the girls had towels wrapped around them like loincloths and one at least had a towel wrapped all the way around her middle section so she was completely covered.

I ran outside and asked them what on earth they thought they were doing. They looked at me quite puzzled and said, “We are just pretending to be Aztecs.” I guess I should be happy they weren’t offering any human sacrifices as well.

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